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May 2024

Horizon Forbidden West

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Nixxes Software
Release Date: Early 2024


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PC Review - 'Horizon: Forbidden West Complete Edition'

by Cody Medellin on April 8, 2024 @ 1:20 a.m. PDT

Horizon Forbidden West continues Aloy's story as she moves west to a far-future America to brave a majestic, but dangerous frontier where she’ll face awe-inspiring machines and mysterious new threats.

Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition can be considered an important release in the past few years. It's less about the game's quality, which was good after the patches, but more about the fact that it marks the first time since the original PlayStation era that Sony published one of its single-player PlayStation exclusives on the PC. The game's release was still a few years removed from the original console release, but it marked the company's interest in the platform, which is usually beneficial given the quality of the games and the ports. Fewer than four years after that initiative began, Horizon: Forbidden West Complete Edition makes its PC debut, and it is exactly what players have come to expect from the brand.

Forbidden West takes place roughly six months after the end of the first title. Aloy has been on the search for a copy of the AI known as Gaia, with the hope that activating it will turn back the blight that has ravaged the land and threatened to end all life on Earth. After an attempt to grab a copy from an abandoned space shuttle station produces nothing, she gets word that she might find what she's looking for in the Forbidden West, essentially the west coast for the former United States. She departs for the area while encountering new enemies and trying to make peace with the new human tribes.

The story lacks as many big revelations as the first game, but it remains engrossing due to the new environments. The different characters also make the story fun with their personalities and well-written dialogue. That said, the only knock is against Aloy. She's always been a loner, and although she gained a few allies in the first game, she's still quick to ditch them when they offer to help. On the one hand, it makes sense since she's trying to shoulder the burden of saving the world without worrying about the well-being of others. That attitude makes her an active problem-solver instead of someone who waits for others. On the other hand, it also makes her appear cold and uncaring, a trait you don't see lasting long in protagonists. You'd also hope her attitude would've changed between the events of the last game and this one.

For the most part, the game takes the open-world formula of the first game and expands on it in some significant ways. Traversal remains as varied as ever, as you can hide in tall grasses, swim without a break (once you find the right tool), and ride on some machines to get through the lands faster. You can later call upon a large pterodactyl for flight and, taking a page from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you will have a paraglider to soar over the skies if your robotic bird friend isn't around. Climbing is also refined, and even though you still have clearly marked yellow surfaces and edges to hold onto, you can almost freely climb up rocky surfaces. You'll wish that there is some consistency in climbing, though, as there are places you're blocked from climbing or jumping over — even though it looks like you can — and that breaks the immersion of the open world.

When it comes to exploration, the variety of environments includes mountainous forests, snowy peaks, deserts, and shorelines. They're packed with their own tribes and creatures that act different enough to make each area distinct. There's plenty to see and a good deal of environmental puzzles to solve. The one knock is that the game is quite fond of giving you the solution to any problem almost immediately. Stumble onto any puzzle, and unless you're already taking the correct steps to solve it immediately, Aloy chimes in with the solution. It isn't a one-off, either, as she'll keep delivering solutions to almost any puzzle without giving you time to solve it on your own. If you're the type of player who runs to a walkthrough at every new puzzle encounter, then you'll be glad that the game is doing the work for you. Everyone else will wish that there was an option to turn this off, just like there's an option to skip the pickup animations Aloy performs with every item that you scavenge.

Combat has also seen some expansion in the sequel. You get a few new weapons, such as a javelin launcher and a gauntlet that tosses boomerang buzzsaws, but you'll still be relying on your trusty spear and a myriad of different arrows. Skill trees are present to augment your passive abilities, like how effective your traps will become or how good you are at remaining undetected while preparing for a stealth attack. (Every machine can kill you with two to three solid hits.) You have some special attacks related to specific weapons and new valor attacks that act like a super meter in a fighting game.

The expanded combat culminates in a number of exciting fights, and while fighting against humans is fine, it still pales in comparison to the multi-tiered fights with the giant robotic animals and dinosaurs. A boss fight early on against a giant cobra perfectly encapsulates how the battle pace goes; you'll run between cover spots while also trying to pick off weak spots with different weapons or chip away at armor. Late fights expand on the combat by having to reach higher ground to get a better vantage point against behemoths or luring aquatic animals onto land to get an advantage. It was something featured in the first game, but the experience remains exciting, nonetheless.

All of these things take place in a world that remains huge and filled with tons of stuff to do outside of the main campaign path. There are loads of side-quests filled with ruins to explore in a variety of environments. They're very well written, and you'll often find yourself suckered into doing them because you want to see the story play out. There's also a collectible tabletop game to play as an added distraction, and all of those things come with extra prizes, but you don't need everything to beat the game unless you're a completionist. Mentioning this might conjure pictures of what any modern Assassin's Creed open-world map would look like. The total length of playtime equals that of the first game, so the gametime hasn't expanded greatly.

Forbidden West Complete Edition includes the Burning Shores expansion, which is only accessible once you finish the main campaign, since that story takes place immediately after the end of the main game. The story is more straightforward, as you've been tasked with going to the remnants of Los Angeles to hunt down one of the escaped Zenith enemies. The game makes up for this succinct story by pairing Aloy with Seyka, someone with whom the partnership has a chance to blossom into something more. Don't expect too many new things from this expansion. You'll get one new weapon forged from Zenith technology, but that appears so late in the game that it becomes something you'll use in earnest if you're doing post-credits cleanup. The new enemies aren't plentiful, but the Bilegut toads and Stingspawn insects make for some interesting fights. The expansion's smaller scope makes for a tighter experience all around while providing enough stuff to create a substantial experience. It's nice for those who felt that the main game was bloated with too many things to do.

One quirk in the overall game actually has to do with the performance on different operating systems. If you're playing the game on Windows, the shader compilation process is short, but every so often, you'll get some shader compilation creeping in as you move, resulting in a brief stutter before it moves normally for a while and then repeats. On Linux, the Vulkan shader compilation takes place before the game loads because of how Proton does things, and it takes longer than expected to complete this process. However, it also means that the pausing on Windows isn't seen in Linux at all. It's similar to what was seen in Elden Ring, and it's a very interesting benefit for those who go outside of the Microsoft ecosystem.

The audio is fantastic. The score does a fantastic job of evoking an epic, rousing adventure by providing plenty of moments when the sound effects take over as the main soundtrack. The voice acting is also well done, with a cast that sounds perfect for the roles, and there are only a few moments where the delivery for the scene feels restrained. This even applies to the minor characters, so you may find yourself stopping in crowded areas just to hear the idle conversations. As with any good, open-world adventure, the soundscape shines in surround sound while still working very well in a basic stereo environment with a good pair of headphones.

Graphically, Forbidden West is very impressive. This is thanks in large part to the environments, which are a nice balance between apocalyptic ruins, abundant vegetation, and new human settlements. The tapestry of colors works as a great contrast to the usual drabness for games set in a regressed future. The particle effects, like constantly blowing leaves and snowfall, combined with the swaying tall grasses, make for a gorgeous world that surprisingly contains no form of ray tracing. The robot animals may be a ridiculous conceit, but they look amazing, and it's fascinating to see their movements and details, like gears moving underneath metallic skin. The character models look just as good as ever, and their animations stick to the quality that Guerrilla has demonstrated before. Every cut scene looks nice. The only time things go awry is when you die and Aloy gets ragdolled by enemies. All of this runs at a very high frame rate, and while it looks stunning using a RTX 4090 with everything maxed out, even a RX 6700XT at a medium/high combination looks impressive.

Like many PlayStation PC ports, there are a number of platform-specific options. Different ultrawide configurations are available, so even those with triple-monitor, ultrawide setups are going to be served well. Integral HUD elements are still kept in their original places as if you're running a 16:9 display, and while the title screen is still in a 16:9 format, the cut scenes can have pillarboxes removed if you want a full-screen experience. Most of the different versions of upscaling technology are available as well as variable resolution if you're trying to lock to a specific frame rate. DLSS3 works wonderfully, especially since the abundant vegetation doesn't show any signs of breakup while moving, while its frame generation does a very good job of pushing frame rates higher without anything amiss. The RTX 4090 we tested the game on produced a little under 90fps normally but boosted to a little under 130fps with frame generation on. The only thing missing is FSR 3 support, which we're told is coming post-launch. As for controls, the game works fine on a keyboard/mouse combination but only after you rebind the keys for a more comfortable setup. DualSense support is available, and while the features like resistive triggers make for an immersive experience, the limitation is that the controller must be connected via a USB cable; this must be fixed for the feature to gain traction.

Those planning to play the game on a Steam Deck will be happy to know that Forbidden West plays on the device, but a little tweaking is needed. The game defaults to the Deck's 1280x800 resolution, and the default settings are mostly low. Take off the frame rate cap, and you'll see it perform anywhere between 28fps-45fps, depending on the environment. It bounces wildly enough that you'll want to turn on FSR 2.2 or implement 30fps for some stability . Low is not that bad, as the game still looks quite gorgeous even on the LCD version of the Steam Deck. The battery life on the Steam Deck LCD takes a hit, as you're looking at a little under two hours on a full charge.

Horizon: Forbidden West Complete Edition is a very good game, and the PC is the best version of that game thus far. The adventure is engaging overall, even if there are some things that could've been improved. The flexibility of the PC means that there's no longer a compromise between choosing resolution over frame rate. It is an excellent open-world game overall, and we can't wait to see another sequel.

Score: 9.0/10

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